Toni Carter

Climate Change Impact: Minnesota with Commissioner Toni Carter

Posted by Toni Carter, Nov 01, 2022 0 comments

Toni Carter

Elected by the voters of Minnesota’s District 4 in March 2005, Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter has led on important issues at the local, state, and national level. The first African American ever to serve on a county board in Minnesota, Carter has worked and volunteered in the Twin Cities’ arts community for over three decades, acting professionally with Saint Paul’s Penumbra Theatre, in television and radio commercials and industrials, as talent for print media, and as co-founder/founding director of ARTS-Us. Commissioner Carter has received numerous awards for her work in the community, the arts, and arts education, including an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Concordia University—Saint Paul, and the 2022 Public Leadership in the Arts Award for County Arts Leadership from Americans for the Arts and the National Association of Counties (NACo). 

How has climate change and climate-related disasters impacted your district’s arts and culture community?

Smiling African American woman with long dark hair, wearing black-framed glasses, a black and red blazer, black shirt, and silver necklace.
Commissioner Toni Carter, photo courtesy Ramsey County Commissioner’s office.

Minnesota, known for its cold weather, snow, and ice, is now rapidly warming—particularly during winter months. It is also becoming much wetter. Twin Cities winter traditions, including our Saint Paul Winter Festival and Minneapolis Aquatennial events—tooled and refined over time as cold weather events—must accommodate to weather that melts traditional ice sculptures and castles, and often makes snow largely unavailable for hosting sled and sleigh creations or for snow scavenger hunts—all a part of our winter cultural expectations.

Accustomed to festivals, parades, Pow Wows, and such activities over summer months, people in our communities are finding more frequent rain disruptions or cancellations—and more sweltering days, dangerous particularly to elderly artists and observers. Both the more frequent rain and more severe heat episodes are also a challenge for outdoor tapestry maintenance and longevity.

Particularly for artists who consider natural sources, palettes/environments, or subjects, climate crises impact the availability of materials, sites, and subjects. For master artist Seitu Ken Jones who works on large-scale outdoor public art projects, the climate crisis is affecting work on site. Jones points out that when earth is disrupted, so too are rare earth paints and other materials and supplies used by artists to create their works. Often supply chain issues and scarcity result, driving up costs. He speaks of his concern that at some point artists and other creatives will have less access to water, an essential element in artmaking, and also a factor in the cost of heating and cooling performance venues and artist studio spaces. 

With summer temperatures over the last two years more regularly registering over 90 degrees Fahrenheit the amount of time artists like Jones can spend outdoors installing or creating artwork is becoming more limited. And paradoxically, with more tolerable (warmer) winter weather, some attractive outdoor spaces for artmaking are now occupied by people in tent encampments, which rose in number during the pandemic.

How has the local arts and culture community in your region addressed climate change?

Action to address climate change is seen through the lens of inclusivity. Artists are creating works in all medias that communicate awareness of the current and coming climate crisis, and issue forth a cry for climate equity and protection of those who are most vulnerable. African American artists in particular are creating poetry, theater works, murals, and videos that speak to the disproportionate effect that the climate crisis will have on Black communities, and of the necessity of Black Leadership to address climate change, and to mitigate its impacts.

Past and present photos. On the left, a stunning 53-foot waterfall cascading over a cliff into a pool of water and white surf, surrounded by lush greenery. On the right, the same location, now a dried up cliff where a waterfall once was, with a depleted stream, chipped rocks, and faded patches of grass.
Past and present views of Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis, Minnesota; photos courtesy Commissioner Carter’s office.

What can federal, state, or local lawmakers do to help effectively prepare for and respond to the rise in natural disasters?

Given our rapidly changing climate and impending crisis, government entities should plan and innovate to renew, restructure, replace, and retrofit public infrastructure to meet our community’s needs and demands to mitigate for climate change. Intentional design, incentive, and regulation must all be utilized. New roads, bridges, power grids, public transportation, public health and housing opportunities, and a transformed social service support network are required. 

How can policy support the preservation of place-based cultures in the face of climate-related disasters?

Artists and artwork should be included to creatively plan, build, and implement a renewed public infrastructure and to support the preservation of place-based cultures as we address climate and climate-related disasters. The best prevention, recovery, and rebuilding strategies for neighborhoods and communities will be those that are co-created with the people who reside in these communities, focused on building and enhancing health and wellness within a supportive cultural context.

This blog is part of a series of Q&As with federal, state, and local legislators about the impact of the climate crisis in their areas, how local arts and culture communities are addressing the issue, and how lawmakers can help their regions effectively prepare for and respond to the rise in natural disasters.

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